Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal for Fascism

If you want to make sense of the failure of neoliberalism, as typified by Hillary Clinton, and its vomiting up of proto-fascist leaders like Donald Trump, then author and journalist Chris Hedges nails it again, in this piece, Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal for Fascism:

Americans are not offered major-party candidates who have opposing political ideologies or ideas. We are presented only with manufactured political personalities. We vote for the candidate who makes us “feel” good about him or her. Campaigns are entertainment and commercial vehicles to raise billions in advertising revenue for corporations. The candidate who can provide the best show gets the most coverage. The personal brand is paramount. It takes precedence over ideas, truth, integrity and the common good. This cult of the self, which defines our politics and our culture, contains the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity, self-importance, a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation, and incapacity for remorse or guilt. Donald Trump has these characteristics. So does Hillary Clinton.

Our system of inverted totalitarianism has within it the seeds of an overt or classical fascism. The more that political discourse becomes exclusively bombastic and a form of spectacle, the more that emotional euphoria is substituted for political thought and the more that violence is the primary form of social control, the more we move toward a Christianized fascism.

Last week’s presidential debate in St. Louis was only a few degrees removed from the Jerry Springer TV show—the angry row of women sexually abused or assaulted by Bill Clinton, the fuming Trump pacing the stage with a threatening posture, the sheeplike and carefully selected audience that provided the thin veneer of a democratic debate while four multimillionaires—Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper, Clinton and Trump—squabbled like spoiled schoolchildren.

The Clinton campaign, aware that the policy differences between her and a candidate such as Jeb Bush were minuscule, plotted during the primaries to elevate the fringe Republican candidates—especially Trump. To the Democratic strategists, a match between Clinton and Trump seemed made in heaven. Trump, with his “brain trust” of Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, would make Clinton look like a savior.

A memo addressed to the Democratic National Committee under the heading “Our Goals & Strategy” was part of the trove of John Podesta emails released this month by WikiLeaks.

“Our hope is that the goal of a potential HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] campaign and the DNC would be one-in-the-same: to make whomever the Republicans nominate unpalatable to the majority of the electorate. We have outlined three strategies to obtain our goal …,” it reads.

The memo names Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Ben Carson as candidates, or what the memo calls “Pied Piper” candidates who could push mainstream candidates closer to the positions embraced by the lunatic right. “We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.”

The elites of the two ruling parties, who have united behind Clinton, are playing a very dangerous game. The intellectual and political vacuum caused by the United States’ species of anti-politics, or what the writer Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics,” leaves candidates, all of whom serve the interests of the corporate state, seeking to exaggerate what Sigmund Freud termed “the narcissism of small differences.”

However, this battle between small differences, largely defined by the culture wars, no longer works with large segments of the population. The insurgencies of Trump and Bernie Sanders are evidence of a breakdown of these forms of social control. There is a vague realization among Americans that we have undergone a corporate coup. People are angry about being lied to and fleeced by the elites. got fascism? POLITICAL BUTTONThey are tired of being impotent. Trump, to many of his most fervent supporters, is a huge middle finger to a corporate establishment that has ruined their lives and the lives of their children. And if Trump, or some other bombastic idiot, is the only vehicle they have to defy the system, they will use him.

The elites, including many in the corporate press, must increasingly give political legitimacy to goons and imbeciles in a desperate battle to salvage their own legitimacy. But the more these elites pillage and loot, and the more they cast citizens aside as human refuse, the more the goons and imbeciles become actual alternatives. The corporate capitalists would prefer the civilized mask of a Hillary Clinton. But they also know that police states and fascist states will not impede their profits; indeed in such a state the capitalists will be more robust in breaking the attempts of the working class to organize for decent wages and working conditions. Citibank, Raytheon and Goldman Sachs will adapt. Capitalism functions very well without democracy.

In the 1990s I watched an impotent, nominally democratic liberal elite in the former Yugoslavia fail to understand and act against the population’s profound economic distress. The fringe demagogues whom the political and educated elites dismissed as buffoons—Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudman—rode an anti-liberal tide to power.

The political elites in Yugoslavia at first thought the nationalist cranks and lunatics, who amassed enough support to be given secondary positions of power, could be contained. This mistake was as misguided as Franz von Papen’s assurances that when the uncouth Austrian Adolf Hitler was appointed the German chancellor in January 1933 the Nazi leader would be easily manipulated. Any system of prolonged political paralysis and failed liberalism vomits up monsters. And the longer we remain in a state of political paralysis—especially as we stumble toward another financial collapse—the more certain it becomes that these monsters will take power.

Fascism, at its core, is an amorphous and incoherent ideology that perpetuates itself by celebrating a grotesque hypermasculinity, elements of which are captured in Trump’s misogyny. It allows disenfranchised people to feel a sense of power and to have their rage sanctified. It takes a politically marginalized and depoliticized population and mobilizes it around a utopian vision of moral renewal and vengeance and an anointed political savior. It is always militaristic, anti-intellectual and contemptuous of democracy and replaces culture with nationalist and patriotic kitsch. It sees those outside the closed circle of the nation-state or the ethnic or religious group as diseased enemies that must be physically purged to restore the health of nation.

Many of these ideological elements are already part of our system of inverted totalitarianism. But inverted totalitarianism, as Sheldon Wolin wrote, disclaims its identity to pay homage to a democracy that in reality has ceased to function. It is characterized by the anonymity of the corporate centers of power. It seeks to keep the population passive and demobilized. I asked Wolin shortly before he died in 2015 that if the two major forms of social control he cited—access to easy and cheap credit and inexpensive, mass-produced consumer products—were no longer available would we see the rise of a more classical form of fascism. He said this would indeed become a possibility.

Bill Clinton transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. He pushed the Republican Party so far to the right it became insane. Hillary Clinton is Mitt Romney in drag. She and the Democratic Party embrace policies—endless war, the security and surveillance state, neoliberalism, austerity, deregulation, new trade agreements and deindustrialization—that are embraced by the Republican elites. Clinton in office will continue the neoliberal assault on the poor and the working poor, and increasingly the middle class, that has defined the corporate state since the Reagan administration. She will do so while speaking in the cloying and hypocritical rhetoric of compassion that masks the cruelty of corporate capitalism.

The Democratic and Republican parties may be able to disappear Trump, but they won’t disappear the phenomena that gave rise to Trump. And unless the downward spiral is reversed—unless the half of the country now living in poverty is lifted out of poverty—the cynical game the elites are playing will backfire. Out of the morass will appear a genuine “Christian” fascist endowed with political skill, intelligence, self-discipline, ruthlessness and charisma. The monster the elites will again unwittingly elevate, as a foil to keep themselves in power, will consume them. There would be some justice in this if we did not all have to pay.

The parent conundrum here is how to create a way out of neoliberalism while dodging the rise of fascism.  Both require a much more politically conscious and politically courageous populace, who on occasion may also be an electorate.

Please feel free to browse more anti-Fascist and anti-authoritarian designs:

This Country Has Been Reformatted to Fit Your Fears--POLITICAL BUTTON I Don't Agree With President Vader's Policies, But I Still Think We Should Support Our Storm Troopers POLITICAL BUTTONWe Have Nothing to Fear But Fearmongers Themselves POLITICAL BUTTON

Make the lie big; make it simple; keep saying it; and eventually they will believe it --Adolph Hitler quote POLITICAL BUTTONOne Party System - Republicrats - POLITICAL BUTTONA Nation of Sheep Soon Beget a Government of Wolves - Edward R. Murrow Quote - POLITICAL BUTTON

You can't underestimate the power of fear. Tricia Nixon quote POLITICAL BUTTON

Free Election Poster: VOTE FOR

This free election poster makes a profoundly simple assertion: VOTE FOR.  This message endorses voting, but takes no position on WHO you vote for.  This campaign poster addresses more HOW you vote.  This election poster is a simple plea to vote FOR your candidates, candidates that represents your ideals and principles.  This political poster rejects the cynical notion that voting against candidates is an effective way to get good candidates, good government, or a political system that will manifest our highest ideals and most cherished principles.  This election poster nudges US to vote without fear, in unabashed hope and tenaciously high expectations.  This campaign poster asks that we simply and directly register our political commitments and opinions by voting for candidates who can truly represent our political views.  This political message rejects reflecting our political representation in some fun-house mirror of political candidates whose best virtue is not being “the other” candidate.  Such convoluted political expressions are best suited to politicians committed to securing abundant wiggle room, to avoid commitments and accountability rather than securing your best interests.

Free Election Poster: VOTE FOR

If a candidate cannot represent your political views with honesty and integrity, then vote for a candidate who can.  If you can’t find a candidate who can represent your political views with honesty and integrity, then work to create a political system that makes this a workable option.  Your political views matter.  Your political views deserve representation.  Democracy deserves candidates who truly represent us.  Don’t settle for less — or you will surely get less.

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POEM: Life As A Breeze

Life peers to me
As a gentle breeze
With fragrant harmonies
In the tenderest victories
Know longer bought a bout by yielding hope
Prospecting in rock
Dead set, vane certainties
Or coarse inclinations
While a sole breath moves through me
Not ever posing
As superior
From above
Securely skeptical
Of won scoffing up
A flunked up humanity
As a praising sneer life experiences
From the cryptic
As a well found cynicism
In the phase of unmerited bounty
On a head of the game
As dead or alive know matter
As inspiring expires
Weather we apprehend or knot
And how ever we reckon our peeps
It is realizable
Still possible
Life sucks
Or with equal viability
Life blows
Seemingly a parent either weigh
A cruel duplicity
Winds of change
Running lapse around you
Leaving won too
Giving no quarter
And only making spare cents
As scorn points
Awe the wile know one wants
Too be still
As the heart beats
Have the time
Know longer wanting
Just deserts
A trial of tears
And fated watering whole
Pooring out
As in is capable
Only too fine life in such delugings
In this tempest of life
Wear wind and water
Meet on earth
In a saucy plan it
Of surf and turf
Wandering whether
Life is fare
A mist such room and bored
With awe of its chinooks and grannies
Ever present ciao time
Reigning in time
And timeless
A mid week prostration
And fateful eras
Wrest a spell
As a right full heir
Fore life is a breeze
Only to be
Bared at see

This poem is about the ethereal nature of human life and the breezy character of the human spirit, where success has more to do with experiencing fragrant harmonies than vane certainties.  Ever Wonder? SPIRITUAL BUTTONMy skepticism about skepticism partners with my playful heart as hope and willingness trump willful crass pragmatism or cynical “realism.”  Apprehending such tender truths is better realized as believing is seeing more so than seeing is believing.  Hope, gratitude, and unmerited generosity open our hearts to seeing better than through stacks of the thickest and most erudite reams of scientific reports.  A fruitful life of the spirit is a prerequisite for a meaningful and abundant life.  In a paraphrase of the Bob Dylan lyric, “You don’t need a whether vane to know which way the wind blows.”  May you follow the winds of the spirit without overly kneading to no from whence it comes or where it goes…

POEM: Going, Going, Gone

Scores of politicians
Going for green
As peddlers of pabulum
Powered buy vicious cycles
Going for blue
As admirals of addled ad mirers
Sailing cynicism
Going for red
As wore, wore, wore
Posing as knew
Gone adieu this
Until nothing left
Gone adieu that
Until nothing right
Going, going
Too too mulch
For tender truths to sprout
Gone
With the win
Un-till effacing larger truths
Over taking
And out with the owed
In with the new
Re-coup-ing
Awe that was lost
A hearty evolution
And overdo revolution

Here’s another election poem taking on money in politics and politicians who use deceptive and hypocritical generalities to engender just enough support from party loyalists, ironically called the “base,” and from the remaining few who vote, enough support from those who dislike the other candidate more.  I will pass on such centrist and cynical electoral politics that serves few except those already in power.  I vote for a hearty evolution where citizen activists create the change they truly want to see the world, with unrepentant idealism.  We can do better!  I pledge to work each day to create a life for myself that when overdue revolutions arise that I won’t be hesitating between my current privilege and a better future for all.  I will plant and cultivate tender truths amidst the excrement that passes for mainstream electoral politics.  Hope is in our nature.  And Top Pun never sells out!

POEM: Ferry Tales

Buy politicians
We have been tolled
Ferry tales
From bank to bank
Holding no water
Liquidating assets
Left and right
Sow gully able
As they desperately wanton
US to believe
The chosen few, the elect
As top down
Driving in convertible submarines
Celling down the river
As whatever
Thou dust
Having already
Drunk
The KoolAid™
In effacing endless boos
As given the owed college try
And in curable desperation
Quipped to say
Bottom up
As no need to take any ship
From any won
Upright
Nor bail
For yawl

Here is an election day themed poem for Ohio’s presidential primary elections today.  While it’s easy to be cynical about politics, the adage, follow the money, is a powerful tool for understanding politics and power.  The political class, overpopulated by the aristocracy, has well developed strategies and tactics to appeal to the notion that they are on your side.  Inevitably, moneyed folks have a way of perpetuating their economic interests over less economically endowed folks.  These strategies and tactics are built into our everyday life — appealing to crass celebrity as distraction and chasing money (and its attendant addictive cycles of debt and over-consumption) as the unquestioned path to the good life — but during campaign season the high rhetoric typically pushes the limits of hypocrisy.  Unfortunately, the United States electorate is the most uniformed electorate among so-called advanced industrial democracies.  Plus, with brazen gerrymandering, corrupt party politics, lack of universal voter registration, and a whole host of practices degrading voter participation rather than enhancing it, our democracy has been bought and sold.  Our so-called democracy would be more aptly described as an oligarchy, plutocracy, or even kleptocracy.  Voter turnout in the U.S. is the lowest among so-called developed countries.  While increased voter turnout could offer modestly better results, a poorly informed electorate does not have the essential immunization against propaganda and manipulation that would make for a functioning democracy.  I strongly suspect the the bulk of effort needed to revitalize our democracy must occur outside of electoral politics, with social movements that force changes in our political system alongside cultivating positive changes toward a more just culture that respects human rights and dignity for all.  Voting matters, but if we rely primarily on voting, whatever is left of our democracy will matter little.  Vote with your feet and hit the streets; organize; and be the change you want to see in the world.

POEM: The Rein of Hope

A tsunami of hope is coming
Are you preparing such a weigh?
Will you be caught looking
Through shot glasses
Only to be decked out with eyedroppers
For blood shot eyes, those cynical vanes
Ill quipped to see arose
As a master of heavy arts
Uprooted by a juggernaut of serendipity
Leaving ewe to find won self
Oar reel state underwater
In the bust of surf and turf
As well sculpted ideologies
Serve up anchors and chains
In efface of assail boat
Occupying the same
Regardless of weather titanic cap size
Kicking buckets down the road
As if
Awe is to be fathomed
Only too arrive
More than any won dare expected
Even as some specious of large-mouthed perch
Will settle
Just enough
Too fill one’s lunge
In a whirled turned
Upside down
As big fish in a bigger pond
And still
Hope floats
Not even holding water
A parent as sow much hot air
As a cloud to water
The sores of life cleansing
Bound to witness new arisings
From such a gossamer point of you
Not to be governed by stars
Returning only amor
Gentle reign on earth

This poem addresses head on and heart on one of my favorite themes: hope.  Cynicism is easy. Hope is often somewhat more elusive.  Courage, enthusiasm, and an open heart are prerequisites for hope to flourish.  Change is happening awe the time.  Do you see it?  Don’t get caught looking through shot glasses or nurturing any of the many chronic dis-eases characterized buy the hardening of the attitudes.  Love is skulking about working its way into the seemingly hermetically sealed hearts of the ignorant and perversely-incentivized, and when the time is right, love will flood the vacuum in such vacant souls.  Things will suck in anew weigh for those not paying attention in tuition of life as a topsy-turvy whirled writes itself a new future.  Feel free to spice up your life with such advent seasoning…

POEM: Corn Fed Politicians

We are surrounded
By corn fed politicians
Who don’t eat corn
But slaughter the herd
Fed only corn
In a round a bout weigh
In realty
And capitol punishment
Their hire power
Contracts executioners
To deal with every unwieldy beef
If one is to get to the bottom
Of their food chain
In locking up votes
With cheap gruel
And patronizing jobs
It is enough
To give you gas
But I’ll pass on
The magic
Of any half dozen
Of such human beans
So called
With their meat and greet
As giant he goes
Stalk, stalk, stalk
Chop, chop, chop
Nothing left to ax
Accept the sky falling
And the eminent crash
Hour only comfort
In the succor borne this minute
That they don’t know Jack
As we get out of
Dodge

Politicians make at least one thing easy; that is, to be cynical about politics.  This poem melds an ecological and vegetarian theme topped off with a Jack and the beanstalk climax.  Politicians often contract out their dirty work so they can maintain a veneer of respectability and civility.  Of course, they may be lazy-ass cowards too.  Radical politics often has two somewhat divergent strategies: 1) expose, confront, and bring down elitist and corrupt politicians and political systems, and 2) dodge the disastrous social consequences of power and money hungry politicians — along with nurturing humane and sustainable alternatives.  Mainstream politics is largely about securing specific interests, better crumbs from the flesh-eating politicians.  Usually its a lower level political crony handling the corn and crumb distribution.  The System Was Never Broken It Was BUILT That Way - POLITICAL BUTTONRadical politics is a more wholesale and holistic approach, recognizing that reforming a system that is fixed, not broken, needs to be fundamentally replaced.  Thus, there is plenty of work for all, bringing down corrupt systems and building up new sets of human relationships and community that serve all, not simply an elite.  Radicals are hold outs, rejecting the wholesale social contract that imprisons most people and holding out alternatives that can provide humane work and meaning for all.  Rather than simply hoping that we don’t crash or waiting for a crash, radical politics erodes the power and authority of dehumanizing systems as a way of life.  Please Pardon Our Peaceful Chaos As We Reboot Our Country's Operating System - OCCUPY WALL STREET POLITICAL BUTTONPlus, rather than simply trying to not be the next one to get the boot, radicals prepare for the reboot.  May you live your life in such a way that when the flesh-eating politicians come for you, you can happily retort, “Eat me!” — ever working for that day when we won’t be food again.

POEM: A Blinding Faith

Hers was a blinding faith
Sow bright
That it often left her without peer
Few could fathom such countenance
As she left them smiles behind
A grate number are partial
To glean faint moonlight
Mirror dim reflections
Of their dreary world
Rather than stare into one such bright star
Of such undifferentiated light
In discriminate hope
From celestial furnaces
Most believe
Better to be leery
Anywhere near foreboding
Inclement whether
Shoes dropping
On roads paved with good intentions
Or easy devotion to cynical amasses
Having it made
In the shade
Or even to a void in certitude
More at home groping in the dark
Than by a blinding faith

This poem is an ode to faith.  Faith is metaphysical optimism, the blood that beats through wholehearted living.  Faith is only manifest in the mettle of life fully lived, put to the test.  Such a way of life is akin to the scientific method, but its subject is subjectivity, metaphysics, a life lived to discover or confirm how metaphysical optimism can transform living.  Bold testing is the natural course of faith.  Where and how far can faith take us?  Empirical skepticism, the fuel that powers the engine of science, is analogous to this bold testing.  Yet, scientists, who are subjects themselves, often project their own hubris onto subjective matters, leveling “spirituality” for putting forth bold — unfortunately, sometimes bald — faith assumptions for good living.  All the while, there is a nagging tendency to conveniently overlook that there is no such thing as an assumptionless philosophy, even by those subjects operating in scientific endeavors. Yep, as quantum physicists know awe to well, the experimenter changes the experimental results.  In “real world” terms this is simply recognizing that what questions we ask determine the answers.  We, subjects awe, deeply participate in whatever answers will come our way. Look for the answer inside your question --Rumi quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON I, for one, am much more fascinated by the questions of how we transform our lives through the science of living matters, than simply nailing down the science of dead matter, fixated on predictability and control.  Of course, nailing down stuff plagues the human condition in both scientific and metaphysical endeavors.  As Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”  The question still remains: in which half of the creeds does faith live?  This can only be tested and confirmed by personal discovery, in our living.  While there is a lot of truth in the truism that misery loves company, I would venture to say that passionate optimism is far more attractive than life-sucking cynicism.  This poem is intended to capture the reactions of living in the wake of bold metaphysical optimism, often through an irresistible pull to live fuller lives, and sometimes by shrinking into the seeming security of smaller certitudes.  May you find yourself putting your deepest faith to the test, and in this mettle may you discover many bright and beautiful alloys along the way.

POEM: Can She Be Eunuch?

She stated
No one else can do what I do
To witch
They rejoined
Realing in whore
Accept that you are a cog
You intractable wrench
Unfit for cloning round
And unstranded
She cut out
From the puppet tier
Knot to be
Am ployed
As if
She were eunuch

This poem is about breaking away from the artifice and inhumanity of the machine, aka, capitalism, which is designed to monetize you in any way possible.  When someone discovers the passion of their unique role and contribution to the world, the machine pushes back as it has difficulty incorporating one’s soul eccentricities into it’s standardized system and dehumanized algorithms.  Generous portions of creativity easily overwhelm “the way we have always done things” as well as distant, disconnected orders from big bosses.  Creativity is so unnatural to the machine that it ultimately creates huge inefficiencies, even amidst its seeming devotion to efficiency.  The machine typically finds it much more expedient to grind cows to hamburger than even milk them for all that they are worth.  Workers’ humanity routinely suffers the analogous outcome.  Creativity that cannot be easily plugged into the machine is ignored, discounted, or actively stifled.  In this poem, the sheer stupidity and foolishness of a system that fails to adapt to the unfathomable creativity of the human spirit is represented by the rhetorical question that is the title: Can she be eunuch?  Beside the overlayed meaning of the pun eunuch/unique, the definitional absurdity of a female being a eunuch (a castrated male) illustrates how the machine fundamentally misunderstands and misuses the very people it is alleged to serve.  The machine is indiscriminate in its castration!  Of coarse, such crudeness does serve some people, just not workers within the system.  Even though a system well designed to incorporate human creativity and eccentricities could unleash incalculable efficiencies and productivity AND be well aligned with the desires and needs of each of those working within such a system, the capitalist system is not intended to produce the greatest good, particularly the common good, but instead is geared and cogged to produce material wealth for an elite few who pull the levers of so-called industry.  Private profit at the expense of human potential and the common good is the only real order of the day in capitalism.  The common good is reduced to foolhardiness as it is wide open to being robbed by the capitalistic princes of virtue, greed being the organizing principle of capitalism.  Human attributes not easily monetized atrophy in capitalism.  Turning humans into cogs for personal profit may very well be one of the better definitions of evil.  Robbing others of their God-given creativity and eccentric passions for a few bucks and a cynical acceptance of a diminished humanity is a pathetic way of honoring the countless gifts humanity brings to the world.  Courageous creativity, the bold commitment and determination to find a way to be who you were created to be, is the answer to the dehumanizing capitalistic machine.  Reveling in the infinitely greater portion of life that is not easily monetized assures a home and hearth for your own humanity and all those who take the time to be present to such gifts.  May you find your unique passions and the courage to boldly follow them in their many serendipitous consummations.

POEM: Liberal Mined Violent

Some liberal mined violent
Call up on pacifists
To condemn a brand of violence
To wit
They object
Ultimately subjected
To accost
Without benefit analysis
Coming efface to efface
With realty
And a sorted loved wons
Unwilling to accede where others have flailed
The brand they hide
Singularly fingered
Buy pacifists
Calling a tension two
A third weigh
Of the largesse possible
An unwelcome piece
When wanting more than have
Of everything fourth with
Ironying details
Ever beyond that which is a greed
How to saddle for less
Than being cowed
And truth be tolled
The violent
As a madder of practice
Get their weigh
A tempting feudal steer
Milking it for all a veil
In udder disbelief
As much as we can
Due better
Keeping nothing bottled up
Unleashing everything even remotely herd
Know longer listening
Too the artless
Like sum stock ticker
An engine only for the vain
Abase symbol for awe to hear
As the lover of awe kinds
Relinquishes the bully pulpit
In respect to those assembling
Not dissembling

Pacifists such as myself are sometimes called upon by those who are selectively violent to roundly and reliably condemn some violence that is repugnant to their preferred modes of violence.  PACIFIST - Someone With The Nutty Idea That Killing People Is Bad PEACE BUTTONThis convenient opportunism by “liberal mined” violent can hopefully serve as an opportunity for pacifist to draw connections and expose biased interests in enterprises that vainly wish to promote some kinds of violence and condemn other forms of violence, yet miraculously divorce means and ends and somehow produce a nonviolent state.  The situation that came to mind for me in this poem harkens back to the early 1980’s as a peacemongering student at Hope College.  I was asked by a conservative political science professor to serve as an expert witness in the campus’ mock United Nations proceedings.  Specifically, he was asking me to address violence by Palestinians against Israelis.  Much to his chagrin, I spoke about violence in the Israeli occupation of Palestine proportional to the violence present, that is, overwhelmingly committed by Israel and backed by the political and financial patronage of the United States.

Probably the largest complaint that apologists for violence have against pacifists is that they are “passivists,” complicit and enabling of injustices, specifically, and perhaps presumptuously, injustices that seem only solvable through violence, or at least the right “kind” of violence.  Complicity to violence and injustice is a profoundly true charge to both pacifists and apologists for violence.  Pacifism sets the bar high and regularly fails at fully fulfilling its high calling.  Feel free to contrast this limit of idealism (and its harms?) with the cynical acceptance (realism?) that killing others is necessary for justice (usually just us). If the notion and practice of necessary evil doesn’t make your head explode, it will quite assuredly shrink your heart, particularly if aspiring to follow a God of love.  I see Gandhi’s simple taxonomy of roles in the necessarily epic struggles for justice as insightful. Gandhi spoke of nonviolent “warriors,” violent warriors, and cowards.  I'm not a pacifist. I'm not that brave. Phil Donahue quote PEACE BUTTONHe saw these ordered in terms of moral achievement; the pacifist activist, then soldiers, and lastly, cowards. Of course, poorly performing pacifists can fall into the pit of fear and cowardice, unsuccessfully bridging the gap between talking the talk and walking the walk.  Soldiers have an inherent advantage in that a significant proportion can be expected to face death in combat situations.  This engenders a palpable sense of courage for facing such situations, whether, in fact, these situations are just or not.  Willingly facing being killed or severely harmed is the definition of courage. We can learn a lot from soldiers (not the least of which is that the most vehement anti-war activists are often veterans of military combat, sometimes simply slaughter). Courage is commendable.  Having skin in the game is the necessary good.  Any pacifist worth their salt will embody courage and skin in the game.  Evil, and its even uglier companion, necessary evil, can only thrive amidst cowardice and not having skin in the game.  Without courage, cowardice will rule the day (and night).  Without skin in the game, the privileged will continue to keep their foot on the neck of the disenfranchised, usually through a complex system of subcontracting not requiring their actual foot to do the dirty work.  A cowardly, distracted and narcotized public will earn an assist in maintaining their somewhat more advantageous state in the hierarchy of privilege and disenfranchisement.

Of course, the difference between a pacifist and a soldier is not the willingness to die for a cause, but the (un)willingness to kill for a cause.  The willingness to kill is the preeminent prerequisite of a soldier.  Object of War Not to Die for Your Country But Make Other Bastard Die for His -- General George Patton ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONIn regard to willingly dying and willingly killing, perhaps the infamous WWII General George Patton said it best, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”  Further, in the calculus of soldiering, we must remember that in modern times (the last 100+ years), military combat has frighteningly consistently killed over ten noncombatants/civilians for every soldier killed.  By what stretch of imagination do “realists” consider this courageous and honorable?  The cowardice inherent in the proposition of necessary evil is the root of much evil in this world.  The fantasy of necessary evil is nothing short of an abnegation of responsibility, an idol worship of something other than the free will and moral agency of which we are endowed.

As a spiritual practice, I find pacifism, ruling out the killing of others, as a profoundly creative practice.  You may be surprised at the depths of creativity accessible by dispatching the human perversion called necessary evil and the barbaric practice of killing others.  Without presupposing limits on human goodness, you can unleash new experiments, pioneer new ground (sometimes observed as common ground), raise the heights to which humans may aspire, and make the world friendlier to love.  Nonviolence is Organized Love -- Joan Baez PEACE QUOTEAs Joan Baez so elegantly and succinctly said, “That’s all nonviolence is — organized love.”  Of course, my paraphrase would be: nonviolence is just, organized love…

 

POEM: Not Buying Heaven or Hell

Being not tempted
Buy heaven or hell
I yearn my keep
From the love unearth

I like epic themes, such as heaven and hell.  Nonetheless, I find the carrot of heaven or the stick of hell to be a distraction from good living on earth.  Love strikes me as what melds the good life on earth.  Love is a good in itself, reflecting the grace of our Creator.  Love is the way.  Love puts hell in the refuse category, rejecting the cynical notion that redemption is a dead end street.  Hell implies that God gives up on us, and that God’s will can only overcome us with some sort of eternal prison.  More insidiously, hell accepts that human will is somehow supreme, even trumping God.  Death itself seems a more than adequate fail-safe for limiting any human’s will! If there is a heaven, it would prove consistent with God’s pattern of surprising me with good things, taking me beyond my limited intellect, experience, or even imagination.  My conception of how God operates is much more like a parent raising a young child, or in my more mature states, like a lover wooing me into even greater ways of being.  My siblings in this big, strange human family may behave badly at times, but we are still family and need to have each others back, and at least not kill each other!  Cain murdering Abel was all the more outrageous because they were brothers.  It is no different today — we are all brothers and sisters.  We should not forget such things.  This is not simply a metaphor.  Evolutionary biology indicates that all modern humans descended from a common ancestor on the continent of Africa.  Humanity would be better served to remember our African mother and know that we are one race, the human race. Love of family is our greatest inheritance. Let this love bring us together, not tear us apart.

POEM: In What Seams Faultless

At certain moments
I am left
In a world
Beyond
That which is
My own
Speechless
In what seams faultless
Only to be
Hereafter
Unleashed
After awe
Unforked tongue
Speaking freely
To anyone who can
Here
Experiencing such presence
Unfrayed of whoever’s might
Raze doubts
Without distinction
Of those naked to the world
And wholly close off
To any conception
Of consummate being
Unfucked
And irreproducible
Sow what
They attest
Ribbing such hipness
I deal
With it
As holy inconceivable
Awe that is receivable
Soully redeemable
Oar simply unspeakable

This poem is an ode to the wondrous nature of life and the blessed certainty of certain experiences that expose us to truths that cannot be accessed by the mere triangulation of facts.  Also, this poem is a tribute to the conundrum faced by poets and prophets everywhere where the most deeply experienced truths leave us speechless and yet call us out to speak freely about that beyond that which can be bought.  The gossamer armor of poets and prophets is easily pierced by those prone to cynical pokings.  Cynics and sadists get perverse pleasure in crying out, “I don’t buy it.”  To which poets and prophets can only respond “exactly.”  Skepticism is so much more easily packaged and neatly priced — for those who proffer such things — than the freely given intimacy of a singular truth.

I find myself drawn to the phrase, “I was struck,” as a way to describe this immediate and direct experience of truth, free of the “means” inherent in the commerce of daily life.  Being struck implies something palpable, perhaps even enough to get the attention of someone who usually requires getting hit on a bit to get them to pay attention.  Still, the shared truth is more wooing than getting hit upon.  The unspeakable force of this truth is manifest simply by paying attention.  The palpability is more akin to breathing or a heart beating, the present necessity of life finding its way into the world but neglected, taken for granite in a more concrete whirled.  The familiarity of this world of steal leaves us petrified and orphaned in a world parently without much forbearance.  The ostensibly passive voice of “being struck” intimates another actor, another subject, tendering an offer so tender that its import counters boarders difficult to cross.  The nourishment is present to those who can fiord to see.  Nonetheless, in loo of moral fiber, many constipating skeptics promptly pooh-pooh any such experience; and to their wonderment are unimpressed by what remains.  Mean wile, scorn points at the quiet telling, at what is dumb founded.  The inescapable forest of logic is stumped. The prize paid is too ironically fined that missing peace in their puzzlement.  Re-covering truth is a threadbare undertaking.  Aww, to be borne again!  Awe natural is the only propriety birth day suits.  Veracity is no wear to be found.  Perhaps the best we can do is to strike a pose and hope that there is more to come than leaving them in stitches.  There is sow much more than making an offer, that one scant refuse.

POEM: Democracy – as seen on TV

Wherever I land
In the electoral whirled
Politicians ceremoniously execute
The will of the people
In doctored fashion
Yet an other sort of capitol punishment
Delegated to the coroner
Turning voting off
In a Pyrrhic victory
So hollowed by those bored of elections
As a so low survivor
Left to re-collect
In suing came pain
Promises unfulfilled
A small prize to pay
For virtual democracy
Only calling to mine
Survivor
As democracy
In reality
Only on TV

Here is a poem for election time. While citizens have been cynical about politicians for eons, politicians are digging new versions of low at record rates. For decades, America has had one of the lowest rates of voting of any so-called advanced democracies. This poem does take its titular metaphor from the television age and the more recent reality (sic) television. Run-of-the-mill electoral politics is so bad, like “reality” TV, that most of it is not even worth watching, a palpable waste of one’s precious life. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not against voting. For most non-voting citizens, voting oneself off the island is hardly a very productive way of bringing about participatory democracy. In the pantheon of inane activities competing for our attention, and often winning, voting is still worthy of the modest effort required. Still, I doubt that electoral politics is anywhere sufficient to save the planet or humanity. Most of electoral politics is reactionary, cynically triangulating competing interests without much internal compass. Though politicians are regularly without distinguishable rudders, they can be quite adept at blowing whichever way the wind blows — everything is for sail! So, if not too disgusting, do yourself a flavor and vote for a politician closest to your taste. But don’t let voting get in the way of creating the winds of change necessary to redeem electoral politics. Participatory democracy requires ongoing civic engagement. The quality of our democracy will be directly rooted in the degree by which we are the change we want to see in the world, how we treat our neighbors (friends, strangers, and enemies) and how well we speak truth to power, translating our own lives into vital and vibrant community. May it be so.

POEM: The Death of Poetry

A critic posed
A question
Is poetry dead?
But for the piles of dead poets
Worth only one read assent
A qualm comes
Over me
As death summons
Unwanted clarity
Between write and throng
Stern and bow
A demanding curt see
In deifying gravity
Those eternal questions
Only to pass a weigh
Into yawning darkness
And for what must be left
To others
Making light
Of unfathomable depths
Know less than a resurrection
Uplifting that which cannot be lifted
To be more
Than a fly by knight
Scrounging heir to inspire
Till the finality of our daze
Whatever
You call the question
Too the cynic
The answer begged is “yes”
To the forged quest in
At best a loan victory
To the poet
There is know
Question
And undying rejoin

This poem was inspired by an article, from no less than the New York Times, entitled, “Is Poetry Dead?” that was sent to me by my Dad. Fortunately, the subtitle was “Not if 45 Official Laureates Are Any Indication.” Nonetheless, that even posing such a cynical question can inspire poetry is answer enough to such a foolish question.

When the eternal questions wrought from the foundations of reality can no longer summon the slightest awe from which any human dare speak, then poetry may be declared dead. The death certificate will be signed by absolute prose. Such last writes will have no need of a wake, and nothing human need be bared. THE END.

POEM: An Oasis Scarcely Better, Then a Mirage

From oasis to oasis
Straw men
Hiring suckers
Living under
Dissembled bridges
Until it’s over
Troubled waters
What’s the hold-up
Living for weak ends
And long vocations
Until
Down
Under
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
A hexing feat
A plod
Bought and paid for
Buy decisions made years a go
Putting off family
For eternal wrest
Friends only gathering in your wake
A bout time
Spent
Pourly
Until
Can’t take it
With them
Passing on
An assuming manor
And a partiality
For a stylized life
And conspicuous consumption
Wear cleanliness is next to gaudiness
Awe made passable
By a peacocky overcompensation
Surpassing one’s station
In life
A haven untaxed
In death
A surety
As won might
Have guest it
A regretful time share
As when the first homme isn’t enough
Always returning
Too more earnest dwellings
Harping on
The good old daze
Not even
For a second
Helping
But for the hole shebang
In unremitting a morality
A temporary re-treat
From the fire down below
Feeling the heat
Strokes of genius
Clever ruses billed
On foundations of sand
Offering slim hope
For the porous
As liquid assets evaporating
In a desert temp
An oasis scarcely better
Then a mirage
For those sitting on the parch
A weigh station
To check their baggage
Perhaps pick up some more
Souvenirs
For the trip
Over their own feat
Plunging an unquenchable thirst
Skewering with spit
Sweating bullets
In humid climbs
Yet like fish out of water
No matter how hard
They dry
Flailing to inspire
In any such reckoning
And knot on your life
Will they settle
For sum thing less
And weather they come
Ergo
For the wrest of US
Their goes
The neighborhood

This poem is an ode to so-called living from oasis to oasis rather than living sustainably in one oasis.  I find that the so-called “carrot” of getting to the next oasis is actually more of a “stick” to nature and our humanity.  Americans have suffered from a frontier mentality for centuries, ratcheting up suffering in increasingly exponential ways.  Instead of doing the work of learning about and living within natural limits, humans race toward extinction, with a lengthy prologue and rate of over a hundred species a day.  Living in harmony, sustainably within our natural environment, may very well be the most important lesson humans need to learn within the next few generations.  There is little reason why we shouldn’t be able to learn this lesson, but whether we will avail ourselves of the benefits of learning this lesson is unclear.  There is a classic, somewhat cynical exposition from the character Agent Smith in the movie, The Matrix, which gives one perspective on the human race and human nature:

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

I find this description accurate.  However, this history leaves unanswered how we will respond in the future.  The relevant conundrum that I see in human nature is that the unprecedented capability humans have in making choices undetermined by nature is a serious double-edged sword.  This very capability to stretch nature, even human nature, can lead to large, unsustainable ventures which bound over natural limits in which other living entities would be much more “naturally” restrained or contained.  Perhaps paradoxically, this very same capability leaves open the potential to adapt quickly and recover a sustainable balance.  I find hope in our ability to adapt.  Still, humans have a long history of only doing the right thing after exhausting most every other possibility.  The stakes are high, and realizing the high stakes may be the necessary impetus for humans to make necessary adjustments.  Hopefully, we can restore a level of sanity and balance in time to avoid a catastrophic collapse of civilization and/or the environment.  Either way, living in harmony with nature is a better choice.  We can vote with our lives and lifestyles.  May we embrace our evolution, even revolution, to avoid devolution or extinction.

POEM: For Shadowing a Life

She had saved
So much time and money
Only leaving
Too much too due
A well honed busyness
Yielding the best of the bust
A treasured chest
In hard times aplenty
Never the less
Predictably taking
A rugged helm
In a cagey realm
Plotting a cross
Lives less fortunate
To a steer
Clearing millions
For leaves of clover
And first class vocations
Such ruminations milking
To be cowed by no more than won
A gingerly bred man
Running as fast as he can
From what would eat him alive
So telling
In dropping old fox tales
As crossing too
The other side
Like a fish out of water
Or a scorpion getting a head
Of their fabled nature
A version of croaking
A pare for all time
Only to be left
A loan
Know matter
What shrewed investments
And generous self-helpings
She found herself
A sieve
Not the sort she counted on
A full colander emptied
Her labor saving devices
Gave birth
To so little
A listless family planning
Orphaned buy
A catalog of unequalled possessions
For shadowing a life
Reflecting on buy-gone delinquency
So quickly passing
In habiting exquisite coffers
Now coffin for discreet recognition
Mirrorly a pall bearing
In her high tech death bed
Stubbornly sterile
The best care money can buy
As in firm nursery
A weighting her delivery
As an empty car go
A body of controvertible evidence condemned
As howl I get through it
A void
A fading bellow
Of such eternal apprehension
I’m mortal
A rapidly reproaching sunset
Fallowing the light
Oh my brightness
And savvy hews
Will never be herd above
This inferno racket
Of contempt late
Ever wandering about the evil won
I can’t even
Here myself
I’d give
My hole life
Too take notice
Of any body et al
Letting out
A friendish laugh
In compassing
Nay gating
The presents of cloved feat
The beast of burden
Due another’s work
Seeking too earnest
For see
Forever dwelling
Wear you can’t take it
With you
All that
You don’t have

This poem is another reflection on the epic choices we make in our lives.  The would-be heroine in this poem settles for the heroin of a profitable job and a trophy husband (who eventually dumps her), only to find herself, perhaps too late, with failing health, facing death with a certain emptiness commensurate with her life.  Given busyness passing for worthiness, and material wealth passing for success, what passes for life fades into death.

In this poem, I allude to the fable of the scorpion and the frog, which goes so:

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.” The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?” Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”

Most would agree that this cynical tail really stings!  Deathly self-destruction reverberates potential destruction to any in the vicinity.  Whatever constitutes such an irrational nature is a black hole for any logic or reason; worse yet, it resonates with a primal fear of the unknown (death being the great unknown), the proverbial abyss.  As long as we live in the shadow of scorpions, we must confront such deathly fear.  Of course, death comes to us all, but the river in which we are crossing over to the other side is denoted “denial” on many life maps.

Perhaps the highest state a human can attain is to face one’s own death with equanimity, particularly if it involves laying one’s own life down for another.  Most of us deal with our fear of death by justifying the death of others to preserve our own life, or ironically, our “way of life.”  This is not truly facing death, it’s trading another’s life for your own; thus, postponing your own facing of death.  Avoiding death by dealing out death to others is considered eminently rationale by most.  Preserving your own life, avoiding your own death, is viewed as a near-absolute value by most.  The right to self-defense is considered common sense.  Few would assail it.  Though some, like Jesus, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr., would make poor use of it.  The right to surrender one’s life for a higher purpose is considered noble, but beyond expectation for common folk.  Nonetheless, transcending one’s self is the only death-defying, even deathless, territory to reside within.  Inasmuch as humanity resides in the robustness of life, humans must transcend one’s self.  Humanists might consider humanity itself as the larger self to serve and in which to participate.  Transcendentalists might consider the larger self to transcend humanity, even transcending humanity plus nature. Either way, only through the whole can we find peace.  Accepting that life is bigger than us, and bigger than our death, can give us peace — provided that we are a true devotee of life, not death.

Scorpions, real or perceived, force us to confront our own nature and devotion to life.  The proverbial scorpion is perhaps best personified by “terrorists” in present-day America.  Terrorists are routinely and conveniently oversimplified to be scorpions.  Their nature is portrayed as both intractably irrational and completely predictably self-destructive.  In short, subhuman, unable to behave rationally, even in regards to self-preservation.  Those scraping the bottom of humanity at least send others to death to protect one’s own version of rationality.  We call these folks “generals” or even “Commander-in-Chief.”  Labeling that which we feel compelled to kill as subhuman is the only rationale way to preserve our notion of humanity.  This shot-full-of-holes rationale is an inhumane shortcut to deal with deathly fear by choosing death, for others

However, any dehumanization of others is a disproportionate focus or complete fixation on the scorpion nature present in humanity (and every human).  The potential for manifesting the scorpion nature is part of our nature.  The notion of “self” destruction simply rests on our notion of self.  If terrorists are not part of humanity, then we are free to kill them without killing part of our “self.” If terrorists are part of humanity, then we are not free to kill them and rationally claim “self” defense, since they are a part of the “self” of humanity.  No doubt, some would easily settle for maiming part of humanity, their humanity, to preserve their maimed image of humanity and have a hand in shaping which numerical portion survives the battle.  However, life is even larger than humanity, a point that probably has to be conceded by both humanists and transcendentalists.  Life does not need humans.  Life existed before humans.  Life could exist if humans become extinct (probably in grand gestures of “self” preservation).  To pay proper homage to life we must choose life as a whole, even if it happens to result in one’s self’s “premature” death (a death brought about by those less than mature).  Trusting that the whole of life is more important than our own self creates a harmony that propagates life.  Trusting that death is a more expedient way to preserve life is our scorpion nature!  One of the beauties of an ordered universe is that some things predictably follow others.  Paying homage to the whole of life brings peace to the piece we are.  Bringing death continues to confront us with repeating lessens, that death brings death, and killing others is killing our largest self.

Most simply put, from a more highly evolved point of view, killing is “self” destructive.  The irrationality of killing is our scorpion nature, a potential actualized when we can only see necessity and are blind to our freedom of choice.  Since freedom of choice is a part of human nature that must be manifest for us to be considered human, the denial of this freedom is a denial of our humanity, the death of humanity.  It is inhuman to deny that we are free.  It is inhumane to deny the freedom of others. Life bids us to more than we merely are.  Feel free to choose life!

POEM: Seriously?!

The Zen master was nearly
Finished with his instruction
When he got to non-seriousness
I was greatly relieved
For I was taking nothing
He was saying
Seriously

This short poem gets at one of the great paradoxes of enlightened spirituality: serious playfulness.  Zen Buddhists have a rare reputation among spiritual-religious folks as having a sense of humor inherent in their spiritual practice.  They refer to this as nonseriousness.  Theologians and philosophers are poorly equipped to adequately describe humor in their systems of thought.  This is not an accident.  First of all, there is a seemingly built in seriousness and rigorousness in philosophy and theology that doesn’t play well with humor.  Trying to capture humor in a system of thought leads to our own imprisonment in humor-free zones.  This is analogous to the self-limiting trap of trying to capture spirituality through materialistic methods.  Materialism is literally no joke.  Taking things literally is the limit of science and the beginning of theft, stealing from ourselves as well as others.  Fundamentalism is a disease that routinely infects any ideological project, whether claiming a materialist or spiritual aim.  I have a great respect for the brevity and poetry of the Tao Te Ching as a sacred text. Taoists and Zen Buddhists have a lot in common.  First, the Tao Te Ching begins by stating its fundamental limit — and, in some sense, its blessed futility — by stating that any way which can be described is not the Way, the Tao.  Then, quite laughably, and with utter seriousness, gives its best shot at manifesting the Tao through words.  The Tao Te Ching’s singularly poetic approach to the sacred is unparalleled among major faith traditions.  Surely, other faith traditions have poetic elements, but poetry or obvious metaphor are often relegated to “mystic” subcultures within a dominant and domineering tradition.  The powerful drift toward fundamentalism or militant ideology makes a cruel joke of mystics.  Through the centuries, fundamentalists have taken the lives of mystics literally.

I view mysticism as the heart of spirituality.  Mysticism is simply a view of transcendence, seeing beyond what can be merely grasped by our hands or minds.  This is inherently dangerous to fundamentalism, and virtually any ideology.  That is, dangerous to anything which tries to put the human heart or God in a box and declare “I’ve got it!”  Humor and nonseriousness is perhaps the best way the deflate such puffed up claims.  Of course, humor is infinitely more useful than merely deflating another’s unrightful claims; humor is fun!  Fun is good in and of itself. I think it is safe to say that a life devoid of humor is a life far from fully lived. Humor is a fundamental spiritual experience, playing off the oft experienced reality that paradoxes, apparent contradictions, coexist in everyday human life.  We can wring our hands, rack our brains, and even cry at the vexing nature of this reality; or, we can laugh, recognizing that oneness underlies such fractious appearances.  This lightness of being is consonant with enlightenment and peace or wholeness of mind.  Seemingly paradoxical with such peace is its unmatched counter-cultural power.  The experience and recognition of oneness stirs into any given culture, with its myriad of rules and customs, something that it cannot fully take in.  This is mind-busting and heart expanding.  A sense of arbitrariness of any given culture’s rules can trigger a new-found freedom to exist both within and beyond those rules without being bound by those rules.  This nonseriousness about any given set of rules sets up any culture at any given moment as the “but” of a joke.  What such a transcendent attitude infuses into any human culture at any given time is nothing but life itself, the Tao if you will.

As a student of human culture, I see widespread contradictions and hypocrisy, even amidst our more sane enterprises.  I find an ability to laugh at such realities profoundly therapeutic, especially given that the leading alternative is crying.  In a tip of the hat to seriousness, crying can be a profound emotional manifestation of compassion in a broken world.  Yet, there are other ways.  Freedom is not trapped by seriousness.  Non-seriousness offers a form of salvation to both redeem our experience into something more whole, and to manifest this more whole being attained into the workings of the everyday world.

My poetry is driven by a passionate exploration of human contradictions and unfulfilled humanity.  While the veneer of my poems may seem strikingly cynical at moments, relentlessly pointing out weak spots in humanity, my intent is to juxtapose apparent hopelessness with authentic hopefulness.  To survive such an epic project, I try to remember that we are already won, a wholly laughable proposition!

POEM: Inexplicably Wonderful

The gift of life
Is quite inexplicably wonderful
But fear not
Teams of scientists
Are working
Around the clock
To redress this problem

Skepticism has its limits.  In practice, I am a skeptic of much skepticism.  Life is wonderful.  The foundation for life being wonderful is that it is a gift, something we received without any effort or merit of our own.  This foundation of life as a gift is the most natural springboard for gratitude.  Gratitude is the antidote for cynicism.  Try it.  Try being cynical and grateful at the same time.  Nearly impossible.  Of course, this poem mocks a particular form of skepticism, that of scientific skepticism.  Scientific skepticism is a religion to some, even a disease.  Not without deep irony, many of these same folks view religion as a disease.  I find very few militant scientific skeptics as happy and carefree.  While I appreciate the work ethic aroused by deep commitments, empirical skepticism, scientific reductionism, is simply unable to answer the most important questions in life.  Over-committed skeptics regularly rule out contemplating meaning as a legitimate enterprise.  If they do find some subtle tricks to allow for meaning, these heavenly concepts are confined to cramped quarters with narrow doors and frequently with no windows to larger realities.  There may just be no explaining my wonderful, carefree frolicking about.  Well, deal with it — and preferably not as a problem…

POEM: Lovers of Dirt

Lovers of Dirt

Wile in cathedrals
The atheist
Dares claim
The title
Of mass debater
As little comes
From behind the veil
That doesn’t exist
In the slightest
Hint elect
To believe
Methods to their madness
Seemingly beyond approach
However rue derangement
Identifying any genus
By its feces
So commonly specious
In its origins
By means
Naturally selective
Preserving favored races
In the struggle
For life
As fashioned
From flights of fancy
For the birds
In plain English
Triggering an evolution
Of rapacious masculinity
Vanquishing femininity
As it sees fit
Too survive
And nothing more
As awe is derived
As so much
Ground Chuck
No longer
A yin without a yang
A homme with only half a story
In tell gents design
New ways of poker
Without reason
Fueling themselves
With fantasies
Of being porn again
Any come hither looks
Reduced to contrivance
Goddesses none
Any go whither looks
Annunciating to the world
A piece of class
A coy that must be played with
Bastards and bitches all
Wed to nothing but progeny
Incesting that the best demands it
Endless reproductions
Preying for deviant genes
To a god of chance
Just for the novelty of it
Tails you win
Heads you lose
Either way
Stuck only
By wieners and losers
How fare
Abet
Between fancy pants
And the un-gaudy
Next to uncleanliness
Soully lovers of dirt
However complicated

This poem is a commentary on atheism, evolution, and gender.  Of any belief group in America, those unaffiliated with religion are the most male, 60%.  As much as religion may be a problem for women, it seems that lack of religion is even less attractive.  If reproduction is the key to human evolution, then perhaps unbelieving men should pay attention to the keyholes.  Both atheism and evolution often strike me as dominated by male pattern balledness.  Reducing human evolution to sexual reproduction strikes me as some form of porn, a way to partner sterile abstract thinking with screwing, an unproductive mating of reductionistic thought and base sexual impulses.

I find the conundrums of atheism well captured in this poem’s title: Lovers of Dirt.  Atheism may be the most poorly equipped belief, or disbelief, system to deal with love.  Perhaps because God is love.  For whatever reason, atheists cannot bring themselves to believe in God, fortunately, I have met many who quest for love.  This poem is partly inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow protester outside the Toledo federal courthouse, when we were protesting corporate personhood, as promoted and reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.  This man was clearly offended by considering corporations on the same level as humans, and willing to hit the street to make that point.  In the course of our conversation, it became clear that he was an atheist.  He could clearly tell the difference between the legal fiction of corporate personhood and actual human personhood.  However, he could not articulate the difference between people and dirt.  A parently, people are simply complicated dirt. This claim to be able to make higher level distinctions while being unable to make lower level distinctions seems to strike at the ultimate heartlessness of atheism.

Maybe there are other forms of atheism, but I have found this creep of distinctionless infecting virtually every atheist with which I have ever had a conversation.  Now don’t get me wrong, while I don’t believe in atheism, I do believe in atheists, certainly inasmuch as they embody love.  Plus, I am a big fan of distinctionlessness.  However, I view distinctionlessness as a spiritual aspect of reality, by definition outside the realm of science which only deals with distinctions.  Distinctionlessness might be cited as unity consciousness, the oneness of all reality (which includes consciousness).  Now, to give props to John Paul Sartre, the great atheist existentialist, and author of Being and Nothingness, he might consider distinctionlessness to be represented by nothing.  Sartre dealt in-depth trying to explain the structure of consciousness which necessitated a relationship with nothingness, a perilous journey where we are reduced to alternating between subject and object.  I am a subject and you are an object of my subjectivity.  Then, you are a subject and I am an object of your subjectivity.  And never the twain shall meet. Ad inifinitum!  Perhaps not surprisingly, Sartre was famous for saying, “Hell is other people.” (see No Exit, a one-act play). According to Sartre, other people, in the experience of subjectivity, must reduce others to objects.  Sartre believed that there can only be NO connection between subjects, no underlying unity.  I am at a loss how Sartre can even claim that other subjects exist, if he can only experience them as objects!?  Of course, this self-contradictory assertion is the basis for his atheism.  In this case, God would be Subject with a capital S.  The logic goes like this: if God existed, we would experience God as an object, and since there is no convincing evidence that such an object exists, then God does not exist.  Of course, this same logic, applied to other humans, would necessitate concluding that other people (if you can call them that) don’t exist as subjects.  These are the foolish places that highly rational and completely unreasonable men end up.  Except Sartre was not a fool.  He acknowledged that other subjects existed — only that these subjects existed outside his experience!  He could only experience their objectively ghostly apparitions masquerading as subjects, and occasional buyers of his books.  By beginning with an assumption of nothingness, he ends up with much, much, much, much, much less than if he had begun with an assumption of somethingness.  Both are assumptions, mere propositions or assertions.

Descartes launched modern Western philosophy off with “I think therefore I am,” taking existence as evidence against nonexistent.  Simple but compelling.  Sartre breaks this tradition in a striking way, he appears compelled by nothingness, nonexistence, perhaps quite appropriately, for no apparent reason.  By Sarte’s same logic and assumptions critiquing God’s Subjective existence, Sartre could just as easily made a profoundly good theist had he only explored the logical sequence of knowledge unveiled by allowing that just another subject may exist, another Subject may exist.  This seems a great leap of faith to some.  How could you equate little old me, a subject with a lowercase s, on the same par as God, a Subject with a capital S?!  Yet, this is exactly what Sartre did with his chosen path.  By Sartre’s own logic and apparent experience, he is the only subject that exists!  If there is only one subject, then this is the closest to God one can expect.  Sartre had no basis for distinguishing between a subject with a lowercase s and a Subject with an uppercase S.  Sartre was God!  And God is dead!!  Case closed — and it was a very cold case!  This should come as little surprise, that God was so little.  When being must have a relationship with nothing in order to generate consciousness, subjectivity is necessarily imprisoned: condemned to be free; with nothing to ground its being.  Now, to be fair, Sartre has nothing to stand upon.  By claiming that it was the relationship to nothing that generated consciousness, the breath of subjectivity, he allowed other subjects to exist (spookily as God allows).  All you have to do is believe in nothing.  How hard could that be?  Except that the other ethereal pillar holding up Sartre’s world is that nothing can be the ground of our being.  So, our being comes from nothingness.  Is this magic less objectionable than our being coming from somethingness?  I would agree that God is a no thing, in that the fullness of God, what God IS, cannot be ascertained from studying objective things, anymore than the fullness of human subjects can be understood by simply studying their junk.

In my book, Sartre should have devoted his keen intellect to a masterpiece call Being and Somethingness. In studying Sartre’s Being and Nothingness in my college existentialism class, what I most keenly remember is a footnote, and perhaps the only ultimate foothold in my book.  This footnote stated that his arguments did not preclude the possibility of hope, but that his purpose was not to explore that possibility.  This existential choice on his part left his work despairing.  John Paul Sartre was intellectually clever and outside of his formal philosophy, in real life, fought to be compassionate to others, though chronically despairing and doubting that he could ever really connect with them as fully human.  Perhaps Sartre’s greatest distinction is how well his worldview resonated with those cynical enough to be satisfied with studying the nooks, crannies, and shadows of this deeply pessimistic, foundationless-yet-sold-as-foundational worldview.  He created a lifetime of available preoccupation in his self-proclaimed hell.  And if there truly is no exit from this deadly state of affairs, aspiring to screw some less cruelly than others; then, being right will have to serve as a poor substitute for happiness.  Religion will be reduced to self-fulfilling prophets.  Humanity will never graduate from preoccupation to the much harder vocation of bringing hope to an obviously hurting world.  Hope requires the study of human nature, of which Sartre is so absolutely skeptical, even of its existence.  Such absolute skepticism begs for a different perspective, in that it worships subjectivity, our apparent ability to will one thing over another, either assenting to or rejecting preconditions.  Sartre aspired to build the slimmest possible precipice from which to perch looming subjectivity, a philosophy with as few assumptions as possible, resting on as narrow an objectivity as possible.  But rather than finding a holy grail, he found himself, and apparently the whole world, on a throne of spears. This creates perhaps the largest overreach possible in underestimating both objective reality and subjective reality.  Unity consciousness is the oneness of all reality, which includes consciousness.  Sartre’s arena was human consciousness, and declining to leave that arena, shortchanged the fullness of reality.  His reality lifts human consciousness beyond its ken.  Though he was perhaps within grasp of an occasional barbie — no offense to Simone de Beauvoir, his lifelong lover, to whom one day while they were sitting on a bench outside the Louvre, said, “Let’s sign a two-year lease.”  They never married.  Near the end of her life, de Beauvoir said, “Marriage was impossible. I had no dowry.”  In fact, there was no dowry that could cover the deficit in Sartre’s worldview.  Sartre’s reality became, through his own volition, human consciousness married to nothing, and no divorce laws.  His denial is nearly unfathomable.  His consciousness only unifies with reality in some zombie apocalypse fashion — which seems enduringly fashionable for some reason.  Sartre strips objective reality of any subjectivity but his own, except for those ghostly apparitions (that would be you) who are condemned to walk the earth, a living hell, negating his subjectivity with a moments notice.  His justice: he returns the favor, jousting with lifelike windmills.  This farcical, impossible dream, leaves Sartre riding his knight mare in a one horse town.  His reward: he is the grand marshal and sole entrant in this ludicrous parade.  Though quite miraculously, Sartre ends up joining an elite pantheon of self-fulfilling prophets of epic disproportions.

I can see how many people are deeply reluctant to believe in God.  What I find much more difficult to understand is people’s deep commitment to disallowing for even the possibility of God. In other words, agnosticism seems justified (though a bit indecisive), whereas atheists must take on a mantle of hubris unbecoming to open minds and open hearts.  Sartre proclaims that there is no exit in a house that he built with no doors!  In the end, using Sartre’s arguments against God, the Subject with a capital S, one must argue against subjectivity itself, all subjectivity.  It is to this that I object!  Sartre built an inhospitable house, a testament to his objectivity (or testament to his lack of subjectivity), and he has nothing to blame.  By leveling subjectivity, he finds, least of all, himself.  Not by humility, but by hubris.  And from nowhere comes a call, “Philosopher heal thyself!”  Yet, the great metaphysician, Jesus also begged the question of the physician healing thyself.  Jesus is recounted to have said in Luke 4:18-28 (NIV), in launching his public ministry, by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.  Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”  “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian.”  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

People are lazy enough to want miracles.  Some just want to be entertained enough to provide a break in their existential ennui.  A rarer few are happy being unhappy.  Jesus’ hometown crowd called for him to reproduce for them the miraculous events that they had heard transpired elsewhere.  Surely he would put on an even better show for the hometown crowd, they thought.  When Jesus implied that his prophetic acts would not get any traction amongst this hometown crowd, accurately citing history, the crowd got pissed.  They bypassed the good news and didn’t even get a good carny show out of it!

Interestingly, the crowd was incredulous even when the heard good news — “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” — asking “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  You remember, that snot-nosed kid who used to run around here some years back.  And we all know about Joseph, don’t we?  They just couldn’t believe that such good news and authority could be present in one from such humble and ordinary beginnings.  Jesus made it clear that enlightenment or salvation cannot just be handed to someone like an everyday object, miraculous relic, or even apprehended through the world’s best philosophy.  In Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the condemned rich man upon his death and agony wants a heavenly message sent to his sons on earth, so that they might be saved, he is told: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:21)  The good news that Jesus proclaimed was to the poor, not the “successful” in society who have mastered the conventional wisdom.  Jesus proclaimed that freedom for the prisoners is possible, and that recovery of sight for the blind is possible, that setting the oppressed free is possible.  The miraculous is not concerned with overturning the impossible, but with the possible not yet manifest.  This is the realm of faith and hope.  This is the realm that Jesus calls us into.  Some hear this and are deeply moved.  Some hear this as a carnival barker.  Some more recalcitrant few hear this as a carnival barker who never even existed!  There are few problems that denial won’t solve, eh?

I think that Sartre’s cynicism ultimately lies in this fact that you can’t force people to be enlightened.  Jesus understood this.  Sartre knew that our choices literally create meaning by placing value behind some actions and not others, all within the realm of the possible.  Jesus understood this.  Unfortunately, Sartre neutered himself when it came to the realm of the possible, the worst form of self emasculation, with militant atheism — which ironically seems much more popular among men.  The attraction to overt force and militancy seems more hegemonic among men.  Though please note that I don’t think that spirituality is better suited or more fully manifest according to gender.  Nonetheless, I do think that there are specific forms of foolishness that are predominantly occupied by men.  The same goes for women; but that’s another story…

I commend Sartre for trying to tackle the immeasurable perplexity of the relationship of objectivity and subjectivity.  Such a task should vex even the greatest minds, of which I consider Sartre among.

Atheists typically claim to be concerned solely with science.  Fair enough.  Science is about understanding and manipulating the outside “objective” world, the visible, measurable world which makes the world more conducive to usefulness, or better means to some end. Spirituality is about understanding and experiencing the subjective world, the oft invisible, oft immeasurable, typically elusive world conducive to elucidating what are good ends and worthy states of being.  What unkind of world could we possibly expect if we studied only the ways to get places but refused to ponder the full range of places or states of being which are better to move toward?

The study of subjectivity includes understanding ourselves, others, and at least offering a shot at discovering or understanding God, if such a present manifests at any time.  The legitimate existence of metaphysics, the area of study beyond the physical world measurable by reductionistic science, surprisingly to some, is not really controversial amongst professional philosophers.  Of course, in the ever-changing, heated climate of rampant spirituality, there are always some climate change deniers in the crowd.  In the end, reducing the transcendent or spiritual nature of subjective existence to mere objectivity — i.e., humans are complicated dirt, nothing more — is amputating half of one’s existence, and the only half that can ascertain which is the “better” half (which is the one that can make us whole).

To advance metaphysics we must ponder other subjects – you, me, and even God.  Harkening back to the discussion of distinctionlessness, atheists with which I have conversed, seem to be pulled back to distinctionlessness.  I would like to draw a distinction between two forms of distinctionlessness.  There is the ground zero of distinctionlessness that atheists default to, apparently in the face of nothingness, the abyss.  This casts a pall over any ability to discern good from evil, or to carve out any solid ground for our subjective being, even going so far as to doubt whether others or oneself even exist (as a subject), let alone whether God exists!  I contrast this with unity consciousness which is present in the oneness of all reality, which happens to encompass consciousness.  I think that this distinctionlessness of unity consciousness is a fuller representation of reality than the atheist existentialism a la Sartre.  Oneness can only be present with consciousness because if consciousness was not encompassed, then consciousness would be separate, and there would be two disconnected realities, not one.  If these two disconnected realities seem familiar, it might be because they are eerily parallel to Sartre’s alienating description of alternating subject-object, object-subject relationships between so-called subjects — more like objects masquerading as subjects.  Sartre cleverly avoids the problem of two separate realities by defining nothingness as one of the two disconnected realities.  Many people might be willing to agree that nothing is not separate from our one reality, which seems somewhat different than saying nothing is separate from our one reality.  This clever configuration jury-rigs the vexing question of something coming from nothing.  Recall that Sartre views consciousness, a necessary aspect of subjectiveness, as arising from nothingness.  Or put somewhat differently, subjects are dependent on nothing. So which makes more sense: subjects are dependent on nothing OR subjects are dependent on something?  If subjects are dependent on nothing, then they should have no constrains on their freedom.  Deeply ironic, if Sartre is correct that a subject is dependent on nothing, then he has accurately described God!  Further, he has described a monotheistic God, because there could not be two absolutely free God’s operating in the same reality without clashing and limiting each other’s freedom.  Back to human-scale experience, I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is dependent on nothing.  Clearly, any coherent account of human experience testifies that human freedom is bounded, dependent on something.  If subjects are dependent on something, then an accurate account of reality must include a description of Being and Something, not simply Being and Nothingness.  Of course, existentialist thinkers following Sartre claimed that subjects could actually meet, dare I say, without distinction.  So, the limitations on our freedoms could arise from other subjects (as well as from objects).

But could Sartre be correct?  Yes, if you expect to learn the full truth from an incomplete truth that is factually accurate.  No, if you consider half a picture the full picture.  I think that Sartre is a freaking genius, and that his facts are correct.  Of course, I take some of this on faith, since he was wicked smart, perhaps too smart for his own good!  After all my critical analysis and occasional mocking, I will say that Sartre had all his facts right, he just didn’t have all the facts, or the full truth.

Like I enjoy saying, “Truth lies in the neighborhood of paradox.”  There is a persistently perplexing dualism present in human contemplations of reality.  I think that Sartre nailed down half of this dualism.  On one hand, the nailing down of hard facts was old-school, meaning it was completely consistent with the 400-plus year tradition of the enlightenment and the chain of progress that is Western civilization (as distinct from the contributions of the ancients).  On the other hand, his intellectual work was cutting edge and timely, even before its time.  Seriously, he was working with NOTHING!  This anchored the accomplishments of the enlightenment in a new way.  Of course, for those ultimately not happy with his militant focus, it could be viewed as the last nail in the coffin that is postmodernism. I think that the answer illuminating the full truth involves pursuing both-and answers rather than only either-or answers.  In this light, I would slightly restate an earlier proposition: I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is ONLY dependent on nothing.  Sartre was ahead of his time, and prescient of modern quantum physics, which has shed light on nothingness.  In quantum physics, particles arise out of nothing, seemingly independent, though subject to probabilistic behavior when viewed as waves.  And the best answer we have about which state of affairs is true is: both.  Subatomic physical behavior is best described as both waves and particles.  This answer, which is as perplexing as the original question, rests on the fact that it depends on how you look at it.  Literally, observing something changes it.  Conscious awareness affects reality in predictable ways (that is, probabilistic).  Translating this into our larger discussion, the freedom present in human consciousness arises from BOTH nothing AND something.  Possibilities collapse into specific actualities based on our observation and intent.

To be fair to Sartre, I’d like to think that had he lived much longer (he died in 1980), he may have been able to incorporate some insights from modern physics into his worldview.  However, the wisdom of the ancients was available to him.  As Jesus pointed out, witnessing miracles won’t necessarily make someone a better, more whole human being.  The power of skepticism and cynicism is strong.

Sartre was correct: Hell is other people.  But, Sartre was only half correct, for: Heaven is other people.  If you can relax your skepticism and cynicism enough, you may just find that others are both your curse AND salvation, which is way better than being mirrorly a curse.  Jesus was a teacher of all subjects.  When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)  Attention all self-fulfilling prophets: seek and you shall find — but, if at first you don’t find, keep seeking…many subjects await you…and perhaps only one…

POEM: Fortunately

Unfortunately
I am deeply cynical
The sum of my hurts, disappointments, and fears
Fortunately
I am unfathomably hopeful
Beguiled by unearned graces
Surrounded by serendipity
And pelted by joys out of the blue

In many ways, life is a double-edge sword, fortune and misfortune mysteriously entwined.  The difference may largely be what we focus upon.  I find that the firmest foundation upon which to rest my attitude is gratitude for all that is fortunate in my life.  Most of this, such as the gift of life itself, is not my doing.  Granted, much of the difficulties in my life also originate outside of my control.  Of course, I have a great say in what I choose to focus upon.  Frankly, I find gratitude so much more pleasant than resentment.  That which I do have some control over is a priceless gift of opportunity.  And such opportunity is best engaged with courage rather than fear and timidity.  As Amelia Earhart said so well, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  May you find, that inasmuch as your life is out of control, that it comes to you characterized by grace, joy, and hope, rather than hurt, disappointment, and fear.  May you find, that inasmuch as your life is in your control, that you meet it with courage and gratitude, rather than fear and resentment.